Aphelion Review # 29 --Soul Music--

Soul Music

A Sneak Preview of a Fantasy Animated Movie
from Terry Pratchett's Discworld Series

Review by Dan L. Hollifield

Type of music/work:

Fantasy Animated Movie Adaptation of the Novel

Approx. 175 minutes
ISBN: 1-56938-462-2
Price: $26.36

Original Novel by Terry Pratchett
Adapted by Martin Jameson
Original Music by Keith Hopwood and Phil Bush

Production Companies:
Channel 4 TV Corporation, Cosgrove Hall Films Ltd., Ventureworld Films Ltd., and ITEL
Packaging and DVD graphics copyright 2001 by Acorn Media Publishing, Inc.
Package design by Joseph Yacinski Design
Cover Image copyright 1999 by Paul Kidby
Distributed exclusively by Acorn Media, Silver Spring, MD All rights reserved.

Christopher Lee as Death
Graham Crowden as Archchancelor Mustrum Ridcully
Andy Hockley as Imp Y Celyn (aka Buddy)
Debra Gillett as Susan Sto Helit

See the DVD ordering info here.

General impressions of the movie:

For fans of the Discworld books, this movies are a dream come true. An excellent rendering of the novel! True in both spirit and detail to the original.


Done by Cosgrove Hall, the animators that gave us Dangermouse and Count Duckula, there are some wonderful CGI sequences done as the episode beginning and ending credit scroll, but cell animation carries the story along in the episodes themselves. Very well done, too. The style of the artwork is perfect for the Discworld setting. I wish I could scan the episode intro cells off of the DVD for you to see here, but that will have to wait for a hardware upgrade on my system. In the meantime, watching the disc on my DVD player seems good enough for personal gratification. Yje movie is really more of a season's worth of series episodes encompasing a full story arc. Also very nicely done. There are 7 episodes, one could call them chapters if one chose, and this brings up one of my few complaints about this DVD. There is no "Play All" function. The viewer has to play each chapter one at a time from a main menu. So at the end of each episode, the viwer has to stop and pick the next chapter from a list before the story can continue. I think that as flaws go, that's a minor one.

I was very impressed by the story adaptation. "Soul Music" has always been one of my favorite Discworld books- One that I've probably read about 15 to 18 times in the last couple of years. So I felt able to spot the differences between the original and the adaptation. There turned out to be a few, but they were so utterly trivial that I discarded the list that I'd made. Changes that were made between the novel and the adaptation really did serve to advance the core script elements that the animated movie portrayed wonderfully. So I, as a fan, said "who cares?" about the changes and set out to watch a wonderful version of the story I loved so much. All of the best elements of the novel were kept, and what little was left out scarcely bears mentioning. Even as a long-time re-reader of the novel, I scarcely noticed the differences. That speaks of smooth and gifted writing by Martin Jameson, the one who wrote the adaptation. All the characters ring true to the novel, which makes the voice castings all the more pleasureable. As Terry Pratchett admits in an interview segment on the DVD, he was quite pleased with the way the artwork and voices turned out, and even commented that there were a few incidental sound effects that the crew had put in that he, himself, had never envisioned- but fit so well that he was amazed. All in all I'd have to say that for anyone who likes Discworld, this DVD and its companion (Wyrd Sisters) are "must buy" movies. For fans of Japanese Anime though, this is a much cartoonier style of artwork than they may like. I recommend it to everyone for the quality of the artwork, the music, the story, and the characters. This is a wonderful piece of work. From watching the documentaries on the DVD I got the feeling that it was a labor of love as well. I can only hope that everyone can enjoy watching the movie as much as I did, and will continue to. Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the second flaw I noticed in this DVD. In the blurbs describing the plot in each episode on the episode selection screens, the character of Archchancelor Mustrum Ridcully is always refered to as "the Dean." The Dean is one of the Archchancelor's staff at Unseen University, as Discworld readers will already know. However, this mistake is not comitted in the movie itself, only in the text of the episode selection screens. Another minor flaw that some editing might be able to cure in future pressings of the DVD.

I must pause to say a word here about the musical score. "Amazing," is the first word to spring to mind. "Where can I buy the CD?" is the second. I don't know, but if I find out, I'll tell you. As the title would suggest, various genres of music are important to the story. Since I don't do synopsis reviews, I can't tell you what kind of song goes where in the story, but I can tell you that watching the movie is the most fun way of finding out for yourself. I recommend either blasting the soundtrack of the DVD out of your home theater system or blasting out your eardrums using headphones to hear the best effect of the DVD audio tracks. Here we come to another of my dislikes about the DVD: The voices were mixed in at a quieter sound level than the musical soundtrack and the sound effects track. This got a bit annoying when I had to keep turning the volume up when the actors were speaking and turning it back down when there was more action or music than speaking. In this particular story, the music itself becomes a character, so each song in the movie not only serves to advance the plot points, but to add to the concept that music itself is from elsewhere, outside of one's normal universe. The different styles of music that the heroes perform are not only fun to listen to, but actually help to tell the story. There are a lot of layers of meaning in this work.

Extras on the DVD include interviews with Terry Pratchett about the production, character info, a pre-quel episode that seems to be from the novel "Reaper Man," filmographies of the major voice actors, and some more goodies that aren't as impressive. What would I do to improve this animated movie? Make a bunch more of them and market them heavier. There are a lot (several million or so?) of Discworld fans out there, but this movie and more like it could add to that number.

Background info:

Discworld is the creation of Terry Pratchett, and embodies profound questions about the nature of reality with profound absurdity and wonderful humor and wit. There are somewhere near 30 books in the series now and Terry has been writing them for almost as many years. I discovered the Discworld books when the early books were being re-released and quickly began to buy every one I could track down. In the space of two years, I amassed 27 on my own effort. Once I became known online as a book reviewer, Terry's publishers generously added me to their contact list for reviews. I am happy to be able to be one of the people who got to review the last few books shortly before their general release. My present dream to get future review copies of Terry's work autographed for my collection.

Review Copyright 2003 by Dan L. Hollifield

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